April 15: Devendra Banhart, The Byrds, Crowded House, The Faces, The Kinks, Paul Simon, Talking Heads

Today’s seven are united by either their album title or their band name referring to a part of the body. Loose and tenuous I know, but hey, there’s less than 200 albums left on the list and finding reasons to bring them together is getting harder. Some familiar names on here, as you’ve seen from the headline, so let’s go.

Devendra Banhart, ‘Rejoicing in the Hands’ (link)

With titles like ‘Tit Smoking in the Temple of Artesan Mimicry’ and ‘This Beard Is For Siobhan’, this is the weird guy at the acoustic open mic night getting a full length album. He’s got a strange, tremulous mumble as a voice, usually backed by his own fingerpicking and nothing else, which doesn’t particularly endear me. Yet there are some gems: ‘Fall’ is grounded by a rhythm section and topped with ghostly backing vocals, and ‘Insect Eyes’ is witchy folk with almost a raga drone. Not desperately necessary, but at least it wasn’t Newton Faulkner.

The Byrds, ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ (link)

The Byrds’ dispensing of their most familiar trappings – the 12-string Rickenbacker, the harmonies, a weird album closer – and diving head-first into country rock polarised their audience and was treated with suspicion by the Nashville contingent, wary of the hippies cashing in on their sound. It’s a brave move by the band, freshening up their sound by completely changing it, but I’m not convinced that the stetson and chaps suit them: ‘One Hundred Years From Now’ is good, and Dylan’s ‘Nothing Was Delivered’ sounds okay on the prairie, but the Louvin Brothers and Merle Haggard stuff is either inexpertly handled or just doesn’t suit the band. A bit of a disappointment.

Crowded House, ‘Woodface’ (link)

You know more Crowded House than you think, according to the old advert, and this is even true of the album art here…

Woodface

The only album to feature Tim Finn, this also contains mega-hits ‘Weather With You’ and ‘It’s Only Natural’, both of which were originally intended for Tim and Neil’s Finn Brothers project. As well as the semi-acoustic indie-rock of those songs, there’s an attempt at Great American Songbook composition on ‘All I Ask’ and, on the secret track, a jokey wah-pedal thrash song. The album sounds less dated than a lot of other 1991 albums, perhaps because it avoids the familiar production cliches of the era. It sounds fine and it sold a load but I’m not sure I’d seek it out again.

The Faces, ‘A Nod Is As Good As A Wink… To A Blind Horse’ (link)

Pub rock, basically, the weirdness of which is defined by who’s singing: Rod Stewart sings the no-nonsense boogie he wrote with guitarist Ronnie Wood, while bassist Ronnie Lane sings his more skewed compositions (keyboardist Ian McLagan gets more to do on Lane’s songs, including one co-write). The closer ‘That’s All You Need’ pauses for a Led Zep guitar freakout, then goes into a chorus with a steel drum, which is the most unusual thing here. I dunno, it’s pub rock, so it depends how you get on with that. For what it is, it’s accomplished.

The Kinks, ‘Face to Face’ (link)

I owned a Kinks best of as a teenager and listened to it a lot but only got round to their albums during this project. They’ve been slightly disappointing against my expectations, and I haven’t re-listened to any of them. This is our third of four visits to the band and is regarded as the start of their imperial period, moving away from the grungy Who rock of their early stuff into something more restrained and English. It features ‘Sunny Afternoon’, for example. The stand-outs are early: ‘Too Much On My Mind’ and ‘Session Man’ (about paid-by-the-hour musicians, this features a harpsichord flourish from jobbing musician Nicky Hopkins, who presumably saw the funny side). Another one that is just okay, this also features the band inventing goth with (at least the title of) ‘Little Miss Queen Of Darkness’.

Paul Simon, ‘Hearts and Bones’ (link)

The last Simon album before ‘Graceland’, this was a commercial and critical failure at the time, and it certainly feels like a minor album: in places, it sounds like Simon’s aiming to make a Randy Newman album using synths. There are occasional hints of world music that foreshadow ‘Graceland’, and Simon gives the last minute of the album over to Philip Glass for an ominous coda. This is our last visit to Simon’s solo career: just one S&G album left on the list.

Talking Heads, ‘Remain in Light’ (link)

At long last we get to ‘Remain in Light’, our last of four visits to the Heads and one of the most critically-acclaimed albums we’ll cover in 2018. Influenced by Fela Kuti and often based around one chord, it’s impressive how expansive the sound suddenly becomes as a result: the layers of percussion, choir vocals and Adrian Belew guitars sound massive. Best known for ‘Once in a Lifetime’, I don’t have many arguments against people who regard this as the best Heads album, even if I subjectively prefer ‘Fear of Music’. Arguments over the writing credits famously caused strains in the band’s relationships: they didn’t do another album for three years, and didn’t work with Eno again.

Next week: we look at some of the post-punk and new-wave albums on the list.

Status update: 826 listened to (82%), 175 remain. Into the last six months of the project now.

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December 10: The Byrds, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, Talking Heads

This week’s 1001 features no new artists – we’ve met all of these musicians at least once and will meet many of them again, as these are (among) the artists with the heaviest representation on the list. No surprise to see any of these giants of rock music on the list (and they are all rock – no jazz or rap musician appears on the list more than four times), but are this week’s selection deserving of inclusion? Let’s find out.

The Byrds, ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’ (link)

The Byrds were in disarray while recording this album – Gene Clark almost totally gone, David Crosby most of the way out of the door too – yet against all odds, the album is pretty coherent, drawing together the Byrds’ trademark elements (12-string guitar, harmonies, Indian interests) with disparate elements like brassy soul (‘Artificial Energy’), weird sound effects (‘Draft Morning’) and 5/4 songs (‘Tribal Gathering’). It feels like the best Byrds album I’ve heard so far, and certainly contains the most lovable song in ‘Goin’ Back’.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, ‘Henry’s Dream’ (link)

Cave’s hallmark sound is to sound like a lurid radio play in which a local in a small town is murdered at a travelling freakshow. That’s an acquired taste, which isn’t for everyone. Still, this seems like a strong version of that model, with strong melodies and motivated musicians backing up Cave’s melodramatic bombast. Atypically, nothing outstays its welcome either: the longest songs here are around the five minute mark. We’ll see a lot more of Cave in 2018, with three more of his albums on the list.

Bob Dylan, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ (link)

The first of Dylan’s albums on the list, this one sees him mostly accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica with no other musicians, although when a full band eventually show up on ‘Corrina, Corrina’, they’re understated enough to not seem intrusive. The album has ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’, but even in the midst of Dylan’s newly woke songwriting, my favourite on here is ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’. It influenced plenty of people, but I don’t think I’d reach for this one again.

Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin III’ (link)

The first half of this album seems to be an attempt to win me over via sheer weirdness: the unexpected groove of ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Friends’ sounding like two songs played at once (almost a raga with Robert Plant singing a blues song over the top), the smoky Pink-Floyd-at-a-jazz-club sound of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’. The second half, mostly acoustic, didn’t quite land as well with me, but did expand their sound in readiness for the folksy digressions on ‘IV’. I think ‘IV’ is still my favourite, but this one is better than its reputation suggests.

The Rolling Stones, ‘Aftermath’ (link)

As ever with the Stones, the best track is the opener: this time, we start with ‘Paint It Black’ (at least on the North American version). The other crucial cut on here is ‘Under My Thumb’. Despite Brian Jones’s best efforts to vary the sound with whatever instrument he could find (sitar, koto and dulcimer make appearances), the melodies don’t register, and ‘Goin’ Home’, one of the first 10+ minute rock songs, could have done with about eight of those minutes (or all 11) shaved off. This is the seventh Stones album I’ve listened to: with one more to go, they feel like a great singles band.

Sonic Youth, ‘Goo’ (link)

Sonic_Youth_Goo

Our final visit to the dissonant grouches features probably their most famous cover art, thanks to its T-shirt friendly nature, and one of my favourite songs of theirs in ‘Kool Thing’. This wasn’t Youth’s easiest album to record, but it feels like their most successful attempt at marrying their no-wave noise leanings to their pop sensibilities, to the point where this is perhaps their most accessible record.

Talking Heads, ‘Fear of Music’ (link)

Last week we did live albums, this week we do Talking Heads, and it is at this point I regret to inform you that ‘Stop Making Sense’ does not appear on the list, despite its reputation. Anyway. This is the third Heads album and perhaps the first great one, fusing the band’s scratchy funk with world music elements (‘I Zimbra’), electronic treatments and the album’s outstanding number ‘Heaven’. There wasn’t really anything like this lot. We’ve covered almost their whole representation on the list: ‘Remain in Light’ will follow at some point.

Next week: In the last update before Christmas break, we’re riding through the desert on a horse with no name: exploring the America-themed albums on the list.

Status update: 714 listened to (71.3%), 287 to go.

October 2: Bauhaus, Billie Holiday, King Crimson, MC5, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, Neil Young

This week’s edition of the 1001 is an editor’s choice, meaning I’m drawing from some of the albums I’ve been looking forward to hearing. The best thing about a list like this is that there’s quite a lot that I want to hear – there’s at least 100 I’m keen to check out. Here’s seven of them…

Bauhaus, ‘Mask’.

The melancholy quartet’s second of three albums, all of which have their attractions. On this one, the template is tight, dubby rhythm section, howling John McGeoch-ish guitar and plaintive vocals, but this stretches to accommodate funk, vibraphone and sax, which creates a feel closer to PiL-style post-punk than to goth. On opener ‘Hair of the Dog’, the sound even approximates the sort of desolate industrial that Nine Inch Nails would later create on ‘The Downward Spiral’. An album with a lot of personality.

Billie Holiday, ‘Lady in Satin’.

I wasn’t awfully familiar with Holiday aside from the Hungarian death song ‘Gloomy Sunday’ so time to rectify that. Perhaps, however, this wasn’t the best place to start: recorded in 1958, Holiday was already in the twilight of a career that was at its apex in the 1930s, before charts or LPs were much of a thing. Recorded with an orchestra, ‘Lady in Satin’ makes room for Holiday’s unusual voice and phrasing, allows for the occasional pleasant trumpet solo, and completely fails to change BPM at any point. Surely not every song in the Great American Songbook is exactly the same tempo? Having said that, even if all the songs sound basically the same, the album flies by.

King Crimson, ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’.

Robert Fripp’s screechy guitar contributions to Eno and Bowie albums had made me interested in checking out his main project, but it turns out that in his own kingdom, Fripp is a tyrant, enforcing his power of copyright with an iron fist and sending a Spanish Inquisition of lawyers out to the pirate galleons of Spotify and Last.fm. This made exploring KC difficult, but luckily the help of friends got me a copy of their debut and here we are. This is heralded as one of the first prog albums and contains a lot of the trappings that would later become cheesy cliche – the lyrics especially (e.g. there is a song called ‘Moonchild’) but also the seemingly endless noodling sections (‘Moonchild’ is nearly ten minutes of it). It’s quite easy, however, to dig the Black Sabbath-ish heaviness of ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ or the lovely flute-driven ‘I Talk To The Wind’. Woodwind/keyboard player Ian McDonald drives a lot of the best music here, so of course he was gone by the band’s next album. Worth checking out if you can do so without invoking the wrath of Fripp.

MC5, ‘Kick Out The Jams’.

RIGHT NOW, RIGHT NOW, RIGHT NOW IT’S TIME TO KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!! There aren’t many more exciting openings to a song than the title track here, which would make it a shoo-in for best Side A, Track 1 ever if it actually was (it’s the second song, weirdly). The Detroit proto-punks’ album appears to be mostly recorded live, and while it captures the exhiliration of the band’s live energy, it doesn’t quite succeed in sweeping you along with it (the production isn’t quite up to it). Also, the album’s called ‘Kick Out The Jams’ but the closing song is eight minutes long? What a title track though, eh.

Pink Floyd, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’.

Floyd are, of course, most famous for their super-serious stadium prog fare of the 70s and 80s, but we’re a million miles away from that here, on their debut album. For example, track 2, ‘Lucifer Sam’, is pretty much a surf song: not a style that you’d hear on ‘The Wall’. PATGOD features some of Floyd’s best-known songs from this era – ‘Astronomy Domine’ and ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ – yet it feels as though there’s a lot of directionless messing around and not enough in the way of actual songs. ‘Chapter 24’ and ‘Bike’ are the most coherent songs on the album; perhaps English psychedelia just doesn’t move me.

Talking Heads, ‘More Songs About Buildings and Food’.

Another album on the list with Eno associations, this time recruiting the effete Roxy Music synthist on production and occasional performance. I wasn’t too bothered about ’77’, but by giving more room to keyboardist Jerry Harrison and adding some more flavours (soul, scratchy funk), this one ups the ante a bit. We’re still a while away from the Afrobeat/Latin dabblings they’d arrive at by the time of ‘Stop Making Sense’, and the album has just one single on it. Imitators in recent years mean this still holds up though: in fact it sounds as if it could have come out in the last year or two.

Neil Young, ‘After the Gold Rush’.

There’s something so cracked and vulnerable about Young’s falsetto at this point in his career that it overcomes any of the dull roots trappings or lumpen piano or harmonica arrangement, and this album feels heartbreaking even despite the elliptical lyrics of most of the songs. The title track and ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ are as good as anything I’ve heard on this project so far, while the two minute-long fillers that close each side make you regret that they’re not longer. All in all Young does the sort of thing that Van Morrison or Bruce Springsteen are generally regarded as doing, yet has the ability to move me whereas those two (so far at least), can’t. Pretty much perfect.

Next week, I’ll be looking at some of the finest albums in hip-hop. There’s 21 albums on the list that I’ve not heard yet: time to bring that number down a bit.

Status update: 294 out of 1001 (29%), 707 remain (I’d forgotten to properly update the list last week, hence the sudden jump).

May 18: Anita Baker, Jean-Michael Jarre, Pixies, Elvis, Talking Heads

Anita Baker, ‘Rapture’.

I picked this one out purely because I didn’t know anything about it. It turns out that I did know the lead single, ‘Sweet Love’. The rest of the album is, alas, lesser versions of that song and the sort of electric piano-heavy, gospel-tinged soul that passed as cutting-edge R&B before Timbaland, Neptunes and Beyoncé tore up the rulebook. Not great.

Jean-Michael Jarre, ‘Oxygene’.

‘Oxygene’ was met with critical apathy on its release for being tasteful, minimalist and primarily concerned with texture. Yet hacks went mad for Air and chill-out music less than 20 years later. I can only assume the advent of the pill comedown changed perspectives. Anyway this is often a pretty series of backing tracks that would sound great with a stronger top line. It still sounds pretty good; less dated and cheap-sounding than many of its descendents.

Pixies, ‘Surfer Rosa’.

I’m sure I have heard Pixies records before but I can’t remember which and to avoid doubt, I’m listening to them all again. Like probably all of their albums, this one oscillates between pop HITZ like ‘Gigantic’ and ‘Where is my Mind?’ and dissonant shouty rock. Trivia: I first heard ‘Cactus’ through the 2002 Bowie cover.

Elvis Presley, ‘From Elvis in Memphis’.

Like the Beatles, Elvis is such an omnipresent part of popular culture that it’s hard to listen to his stuff objectively; however, this is the sound of an artist at his showman peak. The music is sort-of brassy soul with a country feel. ‘In The Ghetto’, the closing track, is an obvious highlight, but ‘Long Black Limousine’ on the A-side is also ace.

Talking Heads, ’77’.

The debut album from the scratchy New Yorkers, ’77’ is a charming but oddly unvaried affair highlighted, of course, by ‘Psycho Killer’. The bonus crap on Spotify includes the version of that song with cellos: the band hated it, but the screechy Hitchcock strings sound pretty good to me.

205 albums listened to. Just 796 to go.